(Painting, "Cooped Up" by Lawrence J. Davis)
They were closed in for almost a week. The new flock, used to living free-range with their former owner, needed time to recognize their new home. We didn’t want to risk them wandering off.
“Keep them cooped for two weeks, at least,” a friend said. “Three, even,” another added.
So we shut them into the 10x20 room with the nesting boxes and roosting bars, with straw scattered on the concrete floor and food and water readily accessible. I visited three, four times a day, checking for eggs, changing water, adding food and offering treats like orange slices, stale cereal and popcorn.
“Peep, peep,” I said, opening the door, teaching them our “call” and to associate coming to me with reward.
They seemed happy, secure and settling over the first several days. Then the rain set in and hopes of letting them out to wander the yard under a protective eye, vanished.
The daily egg count dropped. They broke out once, then again, when we didn’t latch the door securely.
By day six, they looked pretty desperate. The mood in the coop was tense and agitated. When I approached the door one bird, always the same one, flew at the window. I imagine she was hoping to escape, but it felt like she was flying at my face. I was irrationally scared entering the coop, like they were a teaming mob ready to turn on me with a moment’s notice.
They were “cooped up.”
I thought of how often I’ve said that phrase with no real experience of its meaning. I thought of the endless stream of snow days, the rainy days and weeks of summer when the kids and I are trapped together at home. It often seems good and even refreshing at first. Then, slowly, the atmosphere changes. We grow tense, desperate.
Tending the chickens, I hear old words and phrases anew.
I’ve seen a broody hen, how she looks thin and worn, refusing to leave the nest even if the eggs she sits on are unfertilized. Now I know the word brooding - the way we sometimes worry ourselves sick over things that may never bear fruit - in a new way. I watch them hunt and peck for grain and bugs in the grass and I see it is exactly the same pause, lunge, repeat method that new typists employ on an unfamiliar keyboard. I see the marks left by their feet in the dirt and realize the accuracy of describing my oldest boy’s terrible handwriting as “chicken scratch.”
Every one of these awakenings brings a ping of delight, “Ah-ha! That’s what we mean.”
This is what I love about doing new things - this recognition of the way the material world connects, is wedded to, the immaterial and how language spans that gap between the two. Words strung like beads on a nearly invisible thread connect experiences into a cluster of meaning. Finding that thread, fingering the beads that line it, is, for me, a source of endless joy and delight.
P.S. Saturday we built a good sized outdoor "run" over green grass and the girls are no longer "cooped" except at night. Since our run isn't terribly secure, I get a good bit of exercise chasing escaped birds morning, noon and night!
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I'm super excited to be joining with Andi Cumbo-Floyd and Shawn Smucker to organize a weekend writer's retreat this summer at God's Whisper Farm in the beautiful mountains of Virginia. Visit Andi's website for more info!
Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.
What if we chose to deliberately look for small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God?
That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days. You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder. Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.